BWW Review: THE MUSIC MAN Is What Great Musical Theatre Is All About
The Music Man/book, lyrics & music by Meredith Willson/choreographed by Peggy Hickey/directed by Larry Raben/5-Star Theatricals/Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza, Fred Kavli Theatre/through October 27 only
What do the 1950s have in common with 1912? Both were ages of innocence. When Meredith Willson wrote his story with Franklin Lacey about a con artist bamboozling an Iowa town in 1912, which formed the substance of his musical The Music Man (1957), the effect became like that of N. Richard Nash's The Rainmaker. People were jubilant, ecstatic and welcomed Professor Harold Hill, as they craved a good old-fashioned love story coated with ironic excitement. He was a charmer, and they saw way past his bad side. Now in a spectacular new production at 5-Star Theatricals, this company headed by Tony nominee Adam Pascal, keeps the show fantastically rousing and musically. almost perfect yet grounding the love story within the realm of kitchen.sink believability. With splendid director Larry Raben, divine choreographer Peggy Hickey and fab musical director Brad Ellis at the helm, a marvlous 40 member cast takes the The Music Man and offers a much needed take on the way life should be, whether it's 1912, 1955 or 2019.
We're aware of Hill's (Pascal) fraudulent ways at the very top on a train to River City. He stands looking inward toward the window with his back turned to the audience, as traveling salesmen, including Charlie Cowell (Rich Grosso), decry his con throughout the territory and threaten to hunt him down and turn him into the feds. But, Hill eludes them. His manner is so overly friendly and assuring that even the townspeople of River City gradually buy into the scam and put up hard earned money to purchase band uniforms and instruments for their children. The hope is that Hill will teach them how to play. Librarian and music teacher Marian Paroo (Katharine McDonough) is the most difficult for Hill to convince, but when she sees how her little brother Winthrop (Joshua Blond) becomes excited by the prospect of playing in the band, she gives in, even though she has researched Hill's claim to a musical background in Gary, Indiana and knows it's a lie. You see, Marian May be a stubborn catch for Hill, but when she falls, she falls hard... in love, that is. When the instruments arrive by coach, she's hooked. Hill has one friend in town, Marcellus Washburn, a reformed con (Trent Mills), who is his constant ally.
Hill's method of instruction is "the think system", another meaningless fraud. Or is it? It's sure doing something to perk up the lives of the townsfolk! Of course, salesman Charlie Cowell's pursuit of Hill does not cease. He even tries to charm Marian to get her to tell him where Hill is. If you know the story or have seen the 1962 film with Robert Preston and Shirley Jones, there's nothing to worry about as a happy ending is on the horizon. This is the early 20th century after all, and even con men can turn their lives around and settle down. Look at Marcellus! And...this is a love story. ("Till There Was You")
To say that Pascal breathes new life into Hill is an understatement. Robert Preston did indeed put his stamp on the role, but Pacal wins us over quite naturally and powerfully by just proceeding in a down.to.earth manner. McDonough is a joy as Marian. With a gorgeous classically-trained soprano, she is totally winning. I don't know why she had to wear glasses though and a overly old maidish wig. I would prefer to have seen her true beauty stand out as did that of Shirley Jones on film.Mills makes a devoted Marcellus and Grosso is relentlessly annoying in Cowell's pursuit of Hill. Joe Hart is delightfully comedic as Mayor Shinn and Christie Lynn Lawrence as his wife Eulalie is a hoot and a half. Lisa Dyson makes Mrs. Paroo a comic gem and Blond is right on target as the lisping Winthrop. Great praise to the entire ensemble. Under Hickey's choreographic hand, everyone does fantastic work, seen especially in the "Marian the Librarian" number as well as "Shipoopi", "Trouble" and of course, "Seventy-Six Trombones". The male barbershop quartet harmonize beautifully on "Lida Rose", |Sincere" and the one-liner "Ice Cream".
Director Raben as always knows the piece inside out and knows how to keep the children focused. Praise as well to musical director Brad Ellis for a job well done. Costumes by Tanya Apuya are lovely, and all touring set pieces look colorful and make River City, Iowa come to vibrant life.
Put this production of The Music Man at the top of your must-see list! No one sums up this show better than artistic director Patrick Cassidy did before the show. He said in effect that The Music Man shows us what great musical theatre is all about.
(photo credit: Ed Krieger)